Stylish hats are a must on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
In her stand-up act, she curses like Lenny Bruce.
But on the streets of Manhattan, Midge Maisel — a 1950s housewife-turned-comedian — looks like she stepped off the cover of Vogue Paris. In Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Midge — played by Rachel Brosnahan — turns out in period-perfect ensembles: dresses flawlessly cinched at the waist and jewel-toned swing coats, almost always topped off with a zingy hat.
"The hats are everything in the '50s," says Donna Zakowska, the series' costume designer and the mind behind Midge's millinery. She grew up in New York City and remembers when it was teeming with milliners. Women in all income brackets, she says, routinely ordered custom-designed hats.
"It's nice to connect with the tradition," Zakowska says. She scoured hundreds of vintage fashion magazines and drew on her own art background to arrive at designs that suit the period and Midge's personality. Her goal? "To create the idea of Midge's perkiness and assertiveness — with hats."
Zakowska, who received an Emmy for her costume designs on HBO's John Adams, aims for an asymmetrical sculptural look, saturated in rich tones, like persimmon and emerald green, to match Midge's wardrobe. What she arrives at looks like "a cloche gone a little wild," she says. "It's always reaching out, like her personality."
The hairstyles also have to harmonize. "There has to be balance," observes Zakowska, who always consults with the show's hair department head, Jerry DeCarlo, to ensure that Midge's hairdo works with her hats.
When Midge isn't wearing a hat, Zakowska might snake a scarf through her hair or pin a flower to it. "Women felt vulnerable when their heads weren't covered," she explains. Midge looks particularly fetching at her wedding reception in a bridal veil with a bow on top, an idea lifted from Audrey Hepburn's costume in Funny Face. "Bows are always a good thing with Rachel."
Head confections, some veering into the exotic, pop up on other characters, too.
"I really got into the hats at the fortune teller," Zakowska recalls, referring to a scene in which Midge's mother, Rose (Marin Hinkle), dons a turban to visit a medium. The clairvoyant's half-hat — influenced by a vintage find from Zakowska's own mother's hatbox — similarly spirals ostentatiously. It's almost like the two hats are gabbing with each other. "It accentuated their camaraderie," Zakowska says — as well as the comedy.
While Midge seems to have an inexhaustible supply of hats, her aspiring talent manager, Susie (Alex Borstein), wears the same hat day after day, styled like the Greek fisherman cap Bob Dylan made popular. "It's the beatnik look," Zakowska explains. She thought it reinforced Borstein's role as a woman trying to make it in what was still a man's game at that time.
The series already has a second season lined up, so it might roll into the '60s, bringing hippie headbands and peasant scarves. Does that doom hats for Midge's future? Not necessarily, Zakowsa says, noting that the '60s also spawned space-age fashion and hats that resembled lampshades. "It's a truly sculptural period."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 4, 2018